Wednesday, January 20, 2021 was a huge day for the USA. Sure, there was the whole deal about ousting a mutant Cheeto from public office, but here in Portland, Oregon we also experienced another incident between protestors and federal forces. This was just hours after President Joe Biden was sworn in. Now, there’s a lot to unpack about this, notably, the protest was REALLY weird. Like, insanely weird from my perspective:
1. I didn’t hear about it
I’m not directly involved in any of the protests, but I do look into the non-centralized social media mass that talks about these things, and the fact that I heard nothing about this protest is a little unusual. Not alarming mind you, just unusual. Wednesdays are an emotional health day for me, and I specifically unplug from social media. Additionally, since October of 2020 I’ve let most of my contacts in the protesting community lapse. But, the fact that I learned about this protest from a friend living in the Chicagoland area, linking me to the twitter feed of what is apparently a single New York Times journalist covering the event, the day after it happened is…odd.
Here’s the best analogy I can give you: Let’s say for a good chunk of your life you avidly follow Football (American or otherwise, doesn’t matter). You keep track of all the major teams, the big name players, the coaches. You follow statistics, trades, scores, watch every game you can and record every game you can’t. Then, over the course of your life, other things come up and you have to lower your involvement. You still like football, but you find you don’t have the time and energy to follow every bit of football culture. You still make time for the big championship match each year, but mostly you end up just watching the highlights when you have a night off and read/watch the big news on the major sports media outlets. Then one day, you hear about an exhibition match between two of the biggest rival teams. But you hear about it the day after it happened, from a friend who doesn’t really care about football one way or another. That’s what the protest feels like to me. It’s not unheard of, I’m not ringing any alarm bells, but I’m certainly scratching my head.
2. No supply, support stations
Even from the start of the BLM protests I saw all sorts of aid stations being set up. Supply tents, water tables, first aid stations. Near the end I even started seeing mobile aid stations in the form of converted cargo vans. There’s a big push on the BLM community to ensure everyone is as safe as possible, even the officers attacking them. You see bottles of water, fruit snacks, washing stations (for tear gas), etc. all over the place. There’s a reason local houseless populations tend to congregate around BLM (and other leftist causes) protests, they tend to be formed of large groups of people that try to be social responsible and help out their fellow humans. I saw none of that in the protest.
Now, to be fair. As far as I’m aware one of the major groups suppling the protests disbanded around Election day 2020 due to infighting. So it’s possible that no one picked up the slack, but they were just one group and it does mean there’s another tick in the “this is weird” box.
3. Lack of proper protection
Over the many, many weeks of being shot at by ‘less than lethal’ munitions the BLM protesters came up with many ways to help mitigate the damage said munitions dealt. A lot of it wouldn’t be picked up on video: ear plugs, makeshift body armor, goggles and masks. But a lot of it would, and was in previous protests. Homemade shields, umbrellas, leaf blowers, portable fans, all of that was stuff you would have seen during the heavy protests happening through out 2020. This new protest, I didn’t see any sign of them.
I don’t actually have a reasonable explanation of why they were missing critical gear. I can only suspect that the report (twitter feed) I saw just didn’t manage to capture it on camera.
4. Overtly Violent, yet weirdly generalized chant.
“Fuck Joe Biden!” That is what the protestors were chanting, “Fuck Joe Biden!” It’s not what you’d typically hear from a liberal protest. I’ll explain.
Counter intuitively, as progressives, the left tends to be a reactionary group. When a problem occurs, they attempt to correct the issue. There’s obviously cases where overwhelming experience means they have to take action before the issue arises, but for the most part they try to let people do as they please as long as no one is harm anyone else. Arresting and punishing people because they MIGHT cause a problem is the domain of the fascist autocrat. To that end the whole culture (and subsequently their slogans and chants) are more based in either raising awareness or calls to specific actions. “Abolish ICE,” is a good example. There’s a problem (the US is running concentration camps at the border, keeping children in cages, and tearing families apart), we need to take action (get rid of the government organization responsible for these atrocities). Or, “Say their names.” There’s a problem (a disproportionate number of Black Americans and people of color suffer from and die to over use of violence from law enforcement officers), we need to raise awareness (force those in power to acknowledge those that have lost their lives are people, not just statistics, and thus to take action/responsibility for their actions). Only after a long string of specifically targeted aggression toward the protestors do they usually switch to targeting specific people (it was several months of protesting before the cry of Tear Gas Teddy came about). Even then it tends to be a specific targeted incident or behavior.
By contrast cries of, “Fuck Joe Biden!” are, and you’ll have to pardon the switch in language, mega weaksauce. It’s not a call to action, unless 150 people who were VERY attracted to President Biden marched on Portland’s ICE facility and everyone just grossly misinterpreted their chanting. It’s not raising awareness of any incident, because there’s no incident to raise awareness of. It’s not even really catchy, it’s just long enough and hard enough to say that it’d be annoying to keep up with a crowd chanting this. It feels like someone asked a fourteen year old to write a protest chant and they got bored after the first idea and decided to play Call of Duty instead.
As odd as this protest is, I personally don’t think there’s a weird grand conspiracy at work. It’s just as likely (if not more likely) that when the winter months hit and protests slowed down a group of young, eager, and inexperienced protestors accidentally formed an echo chamber and this was their best idea. I don’t have any proof either way, and until more evidence comes out I’m not going to make a call. What I can say is that this particular protest was highly irregular and I’m waiting to see what the rest of the greater liberal protesting community says about it.
However, I want to make it clear that, despite the oddity in this more recent Portland protest, there will probably come a time when there will be protests against Joe Biden. And there are still plenty of entrenched political structures that can and should continued to be protested against. When this happens, we must not shout them down because we’ve decided that we’re on Biden’s side. Legitimate criticism of our elected public officials (often in the form of non-violent protests) is a necessary part of growth for our society. Trump and his racist cronies have set the bar so low that we’re happy to have someone who is not openly racist and corrupt. Guess what? My cat is not openly racist and corrupt. We deserve a better leader than my cat. So far, Biden has been doing fantastic on that front, but there may yet come a time when we need him to do better, and I hope he holds up under the incoming criticism when it happens.
UPDATE (January 23,2021):
I managed to dig up some more information (or more accurately, a couple of friends of mine pointed me towards more independent coverage of the events). It turns out that I was right in that there is no grand conspiracy, or even a small one. Most of my guesses as to why the protest seemed odd were kind of correct.
Communication between the various protest groups seems to have broken down as many of the older groups have had to step back for mental and emotional health. This actually makes pretty much all of my primary sources of information out-of-date and invalid.
The particular protest that happened on the 20th was apparently organized, very quickly, by a group that’s know for holding more destructive protests. I’m not going to say violent because they limit their actions toward property, breaking windows and spray painting graffiti on walls, that sort of thing. Certainly not anything like planting IEDs or bringing fully automatic weapons into the capital building. I don’t really follow them because I prefer to focus on the social responsibility/uprising of society, whereas the group in question (and similar groups) are focused more on the punishment/accountability of wrongs that have been done. Don’t get me wrong; if there’s anything we’ve learned from 2016-2020 it’s that people NEED to be held accountable when they act in bad faith. It’s just not the part of protest scene I choose to focus on.
What is abundantly clear to me from rewatching the feeds with the added information is that while the leadership has changed at the upper levels of government, those that Trump empowered remained entrenched in their positions of power. This group of protestors was unprepared, under protected, and disorganized. Yet the state authorities went at them like they were a well armed, organized militia. I still think it’s a bit odd that this group decided to protest the new administration so soon after the inaugurations, but I’m distressingly familiar with the tactics in which they were met. This needs to change or there will be no real progress in our society.